The Portland Trail Blazers gave another good effort on Sunday night, playing the Los Angeles Lakers on the road. Fighting a lack of size and injuries to their two best point guards, Portland rode scrappy bench play and three-pointers from Jerami Grant to a fourth-quarter dogfight. A 68-48 gap in points in the paint, coupled with a 37-9 deficit in free throw attempts spelled doom for the Blazers. L.A. won by only 6, 116-110, but they won anyway.
Jerami Grant shot 3-6 from the arc on his way to a team-leading 23 points. Starting point guard Skylar Mays shot 7-13 himself, scoring 15 with 12 assists against only 1 turnover. Shaedon Sharpe added 19 points but committed 7 turnovers in 42 minutes of play.
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 30 points on 10-20 shooting, 10-12 from the foul line.
The Lakers knew exactly where to attack Portland’s defense, taking the ball inside repeatedly at the top of the game. Anthony Davis, Taurean Prince, and Rui Hachimura all scored at the rim in the early going. Three turnovers for the Blazers in the first five minutes didn’t help matters. Portland overcame their shortcomings with red hot work from the field, opening the game shooting 5-10, plus free throws. The Blazers led 16-14 with 6:00 remaining, but given the way they got there, you knew the other shoe was going to drop for Portland.
On the upside, Skylar Mays started the game shooting 2-3 with 3 assists against only 1 turnover. Not bad for a guy filling in for the guy who was filling in.
The Blazers stayed smokin’ through the end of the first. Free throws and mid-range shots kept them in the game even when their defense wouldn’t have organically. Hard work from Toumari Camara gave them a couple extra opportunities. 8 points from Jerami Grant didn’t hurt. If the Blazers could have hit an open three, they would have taken the quarter. As it was, they shot just 1-11 from distance and trailed 31-28 after one.
The second unit, run by new recruit Jamaree Bouyea, played unselfishly, whipping the ball around to find the spots on the floor the Lakers were unwilling to defend. Unfortunately most of those openings came deep on the perimeter. That was not Portland’s strength. They seemed to accept that, pushing drives inside to test L.A.’s commitment. Ir worked. Portland led 42-34 at the 8:00 mark.
Inefficient distance shooting and permissive interior defense made the lead precarious. The margin yo-yo’ed between 2 and 6 over the next five minutes. The Lakers couldn’t hit a three any better than Portland could. That helped the Blazers sustain a lead instead of losing it.
The Lakers pulled even at the 2:00 mark of the second. They were too dominant inside to stay down for long. But Mays kept control of the offense, hitting shots or finding teammates. It was enough to preserve a narrow, 57-56 lead at the half. Matisse Thybulle bucked the trend by hitting all three of his three for Portland in the period. That saved them.
The Blazers went to Deandre Ayton to start the second half, feeding him for close opportunities that went home. Mays went to the bench early with some kind of shoe or foot issue, so Bouyea took the helm again. Offensively he was fine. Defensively he couldn’t handle D’Angelo Russell. Portland got stuck in mismatches on the regular as the quarter progressed, L.A. finally smartening up a little.
Around the same time, Portland’s offense started to unravel. Turnovers became common. Shaedon Sharpe hadn’t gotten off to this point in the game. Both he and the team tried to get him going. The Lakers had him marked and stifled. L.A. built a 77-70 lead by the 5:00 mark. Ayton was the only Blazer finding any success.
Los Angeles started pulling away in the free throw department as the third period wound to an end, a by-product of their inside game. That put paid to any Portland attempt to close the gap. A slowly-developing leak became a dam bursting. The Lakers led 91-80 at the end of three. They held a 28-9 advantage in free throw attempts at that time. They were also up 20 in the paint.
Duop Reath saw plenty of action in the second half. He hit a couple of corner threes in the late third and early fourth periods, a bright spot in an otherwise-dreary offensive evening for Portland.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout. Camara and Jabari Walker provided defensive fireworks—bothers and blocks—that not only kept L.A. from scoring, but put Portland on the run. Quick shots fell where measured ones failed. When Reath dunked in transition with 9:15 remaining in the fourth, Portland trailed just 89-93. The Lakers called a timeout to talk it over.
The Lakers checked Davis back in at that point. A Grant three after an AD miss would pull Portland within one, but the interior attack for L.A. resumed thereafter. Portland still had no answer.
The Lakers got up 8 again, but Mays hit a couple of shots to cut it to four by the 5:30 mark. Then Mays hit Grant for a corner three, putting the lead at just 1, 102-101, with another timeout at 5:02.
That margin held good for the next couple of minutes, which took half an hour in real time because of whistles, foul shots, and coach’s challenges. The Blazers relied on Grant’s shooting, the Lakers on inside prowess and the never-ending parade to the charity stripe. Portland turnovers didn’t help. L.A. had a four-point lead, 110-106. as the clock drifted below 2:00.
The Blazers had come back from every deficit via mini-runs and Grant threes, but their luck ran out at the end. Davis bent the defense too far. Eventually the Lakers figured out how to pick apart the scheme. When turnovers replaced threes in response, Portland was finished.
Stay tuned for extended analysis following the game.
Portland will travel to Utah to face the Jazz on Tuesday night with a 6:00, Pacific start.